Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Liverpool’s January Transfer Window Round Up

For the fourth transfer window in succession, Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez was given a sell-to-buy policy, and in this case a sell-to-not-buy policy.

Just like last summer, the Reds boss recouped more money on player sales than he was allowed to spend on purchases. In fact, his only signing arrived on a free transfer.

The final day of the winter window saw little action across the country, although reports did link Liverpool with right-back Vasilis Torosidis and attacking midfielder Arda Turan. Neither materialised, leaving Maxi Rodriguez as the only addition to the playing squad.

Earlier in January we saw the much maligned duo of Andriy Voronin and Andrea Dossena depart for Dynamo Moscow and Napoli, bringing in £1.8m and £3.4m respectively.

While Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun were both linked with moves away from Anfield, thankfully neither materialsed as Liverpool enter a tough month with fixtures against Everton, Arsenal and Man City ahead.

One bit of business that did take place somewhat bizarrely on deadline day was the sale of highly-rated youngster Christopher Butchmann. He left for Fulham in a deal worth £100,000. The German has been tipped to become a star by many, including UEFA’s Top 10 Stars for the Future last year. He was promoted from the academy to Melwood last summer but had since been dropped back down to the under 18’s squad.

Meanwhile, several loan deals were extended. Nathan Eccleston did enough on his debut to have his month loan at Huddersfield extended to the end of the season. The academy forward scored the Terriers winner on his debut on Saturday.

Goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis had his loan to Accrington Stanley extended to the end of the season, and fellow keeper David Martin’s stay at League One Leeds United has been extended for another week. Martin has yet to start a league game for the Yorkshire side, being an unused sub on 10 occasions. Bouzanis has enjoyed a more successful time at Stanley, making 10 appearances so far.

Liverpool FC Manager Will Always Attract Speculation, Says Carragher

Jamie Carragher insists speculation over the future of Liverpool FC's manager Rafa Benitez, and some of the club’s players, comes with the territory at Anfield.

On Sunday Benitez issued a strongly-worded statement in an attempt to quash rumours about a summer departure to Juventus, but it has done little to stop the whispering campaign in the Italian media.

Liverpool FC defender Carragher said the squad had to ignore outside influences and just concentrate on extending their six-match unbeaten run, beginning with the Merseyside derby at home to Everton FC on Saturday.

"Liverpool has always had speculation about managers, players, players coming, players going and it’s the same as managers," said the defender.

"That’s part of being part of a big club; you always have that type of thing.

"People always want to talk about the club, whether it is positively or negatively, and if you play for Liverpool you have got to get used to that as part of the job."

The Liverpool FC vice-captain accepts this season has been difficult for the Reds, having to failed to live up to expectations with early exits from the Champions League and FA Cup and a disappointing Barclays Premier League campaign.

But he said everyone at the club was committed to their remaining two targets of securing Champions League football next season and trying to win the Europa League, and that the Liverpool FC dressing room was fully behind Benitez.

"It has been a difficult season for everyone really, on and off the pitch," said Carragher.

"The only way we can change that between now and the end of the season is by rallying together, getting together and focusing on what’s important - which is the club - and on the pitch getting the results we need to try and get in the top four and also having a good run in the Europa League.

"So at the moment now I think it is about everyone sticking together."

Kelly Hands Reds Fitness Boost

Martin Kelly handed Rafael Benitez a transfer window boost last night when he completed his comeback from injury.

The Liverpool defender came through 45 minutes of the reserves' 2-0 win over Bolton to help book a place in the Senior Cup semi-final.

It was Kelly's first appearance since his impressive performance against Lyon in the Champions League back in October and could solve Benitez's problems at right-back.

The Liverpool manager had been looking to bring in cover for the injured Glen Johnson during the transfer window.

Benitez had been linked with a move for Greek defender Vasilis Torosidis with reports last night saying a deal was close.

However, Kelly's return to fitness could fill the void left by Johnson's continued absence as the England international recovers from medial ligament damage sustained in the 1-0 win at Aston Villa last month.

Jamie Carragher has deputised at right-back this season, as has Philipp Degen and Kelly's felllow Academy graduate Stephen Darby who has made three first team appearances.

Nabil El Zhar also figured against Bolton reserves.

The Moroccan international replaced Kelly at half-time as he also marked a successful return from injury.

Reds Rejected PSG Move For Babel

Liverpool rejected an attempt by Paris St Germain to sign Dutch forward Ryan Babel, according to French publication L'Equipe.

The 23 year-old has been heavily linked with a move away from Anfield, but is now set to stay at Liverpool for the immediate future with the transfer window having closed.

Babel is reported to have rejected a move to Birmingham City, who made several bids to seal a move to St Andrews. Hoffenheim, Stuttgart, Ajax and Marseille were also linked with the Holland international.

However, it now appears that Paris St Germain can be added to the list of interested parties. L'Equipe claims that PSG were keen to land Babel and made a bid for a permanent transfer, but were turned down by Liverpool.

Reina - We Are Hurt By Liverpool FC Performances

Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Pepe Reina admits the players have been hurt by the club’s poor performances this season.

But the Spain international said a sense of pride had forced the squad to face up to their problems and he believed their recent good run showed what could be done when they worked hard together.

The Reds, who suffered early exits from the Champions League and FA Cup, are currently 13 points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea.

However, a six-match unbeaten run in which they have conceded just one goal has lifted Liverpool to within a point of fourth-placed Tottenham and rekindled hopes of Champions League qualification next season.

It has also eased some of the pressure on the under-achieving players and manager Rafael Benitez.

“It is about pride. We knew we were not in the right situation,” said Reina, who is currently in negotiations over a new long-term contract at Anfield.

“This club is bigger than that and we had to think about the fact we were not doing as well as we could. Hopefully we will start getting better.

“At least we are gaining confidence from this run and that is why the result is all-important. That has to be the message.

“There will be more tough moments but our pride is at stake and, if we stick together, we can come through it.”

Pride was a word which cropped up at the end of last week when Benitez used it to describe his feelings when Juventus made him their number one summer target.

The Spaniard issued a strong rebuttal on Sunday night of claims he had already agreed terms with the Serie A club and pledged his long-term future to Liverpool.

Although some of his signings have been questionable, Benitez has been pivotal to bringing in some of Liverpool’s key players.

It is unlikely Reina or Fernando Torres would have been convinced a move to Merseyside was the right thing for them had he not been in charge.

To that end those players feel a certain loyalty to the Reds boss and Reina said his belief in the manager – or his Liverpool future – had not wavered.

“He brought me here – that says it all,” said the 27-year-old.

“You only have to look around the stadium to see what the people think about him.

“There is no point talking about his future. We just play football because, in tough moments, we have to stick together.”

The cornerstone to Liverpool’s mini-revival has been a return to the type of frugal defending which allowed them to run Manchester United a close second in the league last season.

Significantly it has been the unheralded summer bargain buy Sotirios Kyrgiakos who has stood out in recent matches.

At the time the signing of the £1.5m Greek international, bought as back up for the well-established Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, was seen as symptomatic of the financial problems Benitez has to work under at Anfield.

He has, however, developed into the type of no-nonsense nuts-and-bolts centre-half Liverpool need to help grind out results.

As full-back Glen Johnson is sidelined with a hamstring problem Carragher has had to be switched to the right and with Agger only just recovering from a calf injury Kyrgiakos has filled the void in the centre.

Benitez, who used to be criticised for changing his line-up too often, has selected the same back four the last three matches.

Reina believes it is no coincidence the team has started to defend better.

“Proper teams build from the back and from good defending,” said the Spaniard, who played in his 100th consecutive Premier League match in the 2-0 win over Bolton on Saturday.

“It is important to keep a settled back line and the understanding between those four players will be better if you don’t touch anything.

“Defensively we are better now but it is not just that, it is the mentality in tough moments.

“People have to be more together and that is what we are trying to do.

“Let’s build from that and try to win as many points as possible.”

Liverpool’s Doctors Are Unable To Treat Torres Properly, Says Agent

The agent of Harry Kewell, whose time at Liverpool was ruined by injury, has criticised the club's doctors, and speculated that their treatment of Fernando Torres is partially responsible for the Spanish striker's ongoing injury troubles - leading to Rafa Benitez looking for outside help.

Kewell, now playing for Galatasaray, flies back to Australia for treatment - and Mandic says Benitez, Liverpool's manager, has enquired about the possibility of Torres following suit.

"The reason he gets treated out here now is because we have the best medical staff in the world," Mandic told The Guardian. "He lost three and a half years of his career at Liverpool because the guys over there in England had, quite literally, no idea what they were talking about. You have to wonder what they're doing over there. Perhaps they're trying to protect their reputations, but they're certainly not trying to protect their players.

"I think it's a disgrace, as I think it was a disgrace the way Harry was treated. What goes around comes around, and people are now wondering, 'How has he recovered like that?' when everyone in England thought he was a broken toy."

Kewell shone at Leeds United before completing a move to Liverpool in 2003, but his five years at Anfield were injury ravaged. He was even forced off with the club trailing in the 2005 Uefa Champions League final, before the Reds completed a remarkable second-half comeback to defeat AC Milan and win the competition for the fifth time.

Liverpool are currently fighting hard to qualify for next season's Champions League, and Torres' string of injuries have not helped the cause. Mandic added: "We had Rafa Benítez call him the other night inquiring who these guys were because Fernando Torres has got such major problems now. Look at Liverpool. Why is it that over so many recent years, usually around November, lots of their key players are injured? It's always soft-tissue injuries. How come other clubs, like Arsenal, don't have that sort of a dilemma? And why do their players recover quicker? There's logical reasons for all of this."

Mandic's mention of Arsenal is interesting, given the Gunners' own near-constant stream of injury problems, but his words may cause concern at Anfield.

Purslow Insists Reds Won't Cash In

Liverpool chief executive Christian Purslow has pledged the club will not sell their star players despite the financial restrictions currently in place at Anfield.

Rafael Benitez had little money to spend in the winter transfer window to bolster a squad which has had a disappointing first half of the season.

It is unlikely American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett will be able to provide substantial funds in the summer as they try to manage the £350million loan they took on when they bought the club three years ago.

With the building of a new stadium in Stanley Park having stalled because of the global recession, further outside investment is crucial to kickstart building work and the club's fortunes.

But the likes of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard will not be sacrificed if the finances start to pinch.

"We are not a selling club, absolutely not," said Purslow, who insists Liverpool are still one of the world's biggest clubs despite their troubles this season which sees them playing catch-up in the race for Champions League qualification.

"Liverpool is one of the big four clubs in the world.

"We pay salaries and transfers at the level of the top four in this league and that is the sporting level I hope to maintain.

"Our problem is that we do not have two first XIs, as other clubs do. We do not have that financial capacity."

A new stadium is pivotal to all Liverpool want to achieve as it will double their income, but Purslow admits without substantial funding from a new investor the owners' hands are tied.

"When I arrived, along with the owners we decided we had to find new investors," he said.

"Without investment, there is no new stadium. First step: new investment. Second step: stadium. Third: generate more profits to build a stronger team.

"We have people interested and would like to have it resolved before the season ends."

However, if investment cannot be found then Purslow, who describes himself as "a specialist in taking financially-troubled companies forward", is confident other solutions will be found.

"[Without investment] then we'll continue as we are. We would like more if possible, but without appealing to a wealthy individual," he said.

"This is our Plan B: run the club in the most responsible way possible.

"We generate a healthy profit and fulfil our obligations, while remaining sufficiently competitive in the market and the wages we pay.

"We satisfy Michel Platini's criteria for participation in European competition."

Just as crucial in the short term is that Liverpool qualify for next year's Champions League, having suffered an ignominious early exit this season, as that will maintain current revenue streams.

After a difficult period, a six-match unbeaten run has lifted the club to within a point of fourth-placed Tottenham and Purslow is confident Benitez's "guarantee" of a top-four place will come good.

"We will be in the Champions League, for sure," Purslow told Spanish newspaper AS, adding that he was not worried by the recent speculation linking Benitez with Juventus.

"It is normal that big clubs are interested in Rafa. There are many things I want in this life, but that does not mean that I can have them.

"We have not considered, nor are we going to consider, a future without Benitez.

"Our five-year plan calls for stability in the coaching staff and squad.

"Hence the recent renewal of Rafa's - and key players' - contracts. There will be no dramatic restructuring."

Ian Rush: Rafael Benitez To Juventus Wouldn't Make Sense

Liverpool legend Ian Rush is confident manager Rafael Benitez will stay at the club, despite continued speculation linking the Spaniard with a move to Juventus.

The Italian giants sacked manager Ciro Ferrara last week after a terrible run of results and installed Alberto Zaccheroni as boss until the end of the season.

And although they are expected to come knocking for Benitez in the summer, Rush reckons it will be a wasted journey.

"I can’t see Rafa Benitez quitting Liverpool to take over at Juventus," said Rush, who played for both clubs, to the Liverpool Echo.

"To be honest, it just wouldn’t make any sense. Juventus is a club close to my heart and as far as I’m concerned they are the best club in Italy.

"But if Benitez left to go there he wouldn’t be going to a better club or one with more money to spend on signings.

"In fact Juventus are in a worse financial situation than Liverpool.

"I’d be very disappointed if he went there and I just can’t see it happening."

Rush played for the Turin club between two spells at Liverpool that saw him score more than 300 goals.
"I think some people read far too much into Benitez saying he was proud to be linked with Juventus," Rush added.

"Of course it’s a good feeling when a big club wants you and that’s all he said. Rafa also said he’s staying so that should be the end of the matter. He’s given his word and we have to believe him.

"All this speculation can be unsettling for players. You don’t want to hear stories about how the manager who signed you might be moving on."

Rush added that Saturday's derby game with Everton did not fill him with confidence, given the form of the Toffees.

"Everton will provide a much tougher test for us on Saturday than they did at Goodison back in November," he said.

"The Blues have got players back from injury and are full of belief after going nine games unbeaten.

"Tim Cahill is finding some form and Landon Donovan has added something to their side, but one player we really have to be wary of is Steven Pienaar.

"He was one of the few players who did well against us at Goodison and he’s a class act.

"If we’re going to finish fourth it’s a game we must win so all the pressure is on us. There is a lot more than just pride at stake and a derby victory would be a massive boost as we look to really kick on.

Liverpool FC Hope To Boost Stadium Plan With New Investors

Liverpool FC hope to revitalise their plans to build a 60,000-seat stadium by bringing in new investors before the end of the season.

With plans to move to a new stadium in Stanley Park currently on hold, Liverpool FC have begun the search for new funding to bring them back on track.

Managing director Christian Purslow said: "When I arrived we agreed with the owners that we had to look for new investors.

"There are interested parties and I would like to get it sorted out before the end of this season. Without investment there won’t be a new stadium."

But if they do not find new investment Liverpool FC will look to try to compete with their rivals by remaining at Anfield.

He added: "That’s plan B: run the club in the most responsible way possible.

"We are generating a healthy profit and meeting our obligations, while remaining competitive in the transfer market and with the wages we are paying."

Purslow has reassured Liverpool FC's star players Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard not to worry about the club qualifying for the Champions League next season.

Liverpool FC, currently fifth in the Premier League and in the latter stages of the Europa League, are confident of keeping their prized playing assets.

Purslow said: "We will be in the Champions League, for sure. We are not a selling club."

He also dismissed continued speculation linking Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez moving to Juventus in the summer.

Purslow said: "We have not considered, nor are we going to consider, a future without Benitez.

"The plan calls for five years of stability in the coaching staff and the (playing) staff.

"It is normal that big clubs are interested in Rafa. The coach himself has denied (the rumours linking him to Juventus).

Liverpool FC And Everton FC Unite In Charity Game To Beat World Record

Heroes from Merseyside’s two Premier League clubs joined fans ahead of this Saturday’s derby.

Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher and Everton’s Leighton Baines have picked two sides to represent their clubs and compete against each other.

The stars were at Goodison Park last night to give the lucky 16 fans their kits for the big game after they were selected from more than 80 hopefuls, who initially attended a three-week “boot camp”.

Their aim now is to break 31 hours and achieve the Guinness world record for the longest continuous game of five-a-side football.

Carragher said: “I think it’s great that the two clubs are coming together in derby week. It shows that we can be united and it’s about time that we came together a bit more.

“I’m here just to give the players plenty of encouragement. It’s a unique game and it’ll be great that this city will have the record and that three local charities will benefit from all the money that’s raised.”

The 23 Foundation, The Everton Foundation and Radio City’s Cash For Kids will be the beneficiaries of the donations.

Baines added: “There has been a lot of banter between the two sides, which is always great to see in the run up to derby week.

“I think it will be a great achievement for players to beat the record and get themselves in the Guinness Book of Records. We’ll give them as much support as we can.”

The idea originated when Kopites Shaun Moran and Michael McMillan watched footage of the 1984 Milk Cup final between the city’s two sides and saw the unity.

Shaun, 27, said: “I’m really looking forward to it now. The boot camp was tough and the next few weeks will be tougher, but the lads will be ready for it.”

Blues fan Paul Lawrenson, from Maghull, added: “The team is in good shape and I’m sure we’ll give the Reds a great game.”

The game will start on Saturday March 27 at St Mary’s College Sports Centre, Crosby.

Mark Lawrenson: Rafael Benitez Owes The Liverpool FC Fans

The supporters at Liverpool have been great with Rafael Benitez – at a lot of other clubs he would no longer have a job.

They are a patient bunch at Anfield and in times of trouble they go to the manager and say ‘how can we help?’

So in light of some of his comments which emerged at the weekend about the interest from Juventus, Benitez has got to be careful.

If he decides to go to Italy then he must realise he will be managing a game of chess; the game is played at walking pace at times over there.

Although he says it was flattering to have Juve interested in him, would he rather manage there after being in charge of Liverpool in the Premier League? I would have thought not.

One of the main signs of encouragement from Liverpool’s win at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday was the more attacking line-up Benitez selected.

I have said it before, but Liverpool do not need two holding midfield players, they need to be winning games now if the club still harbour hopes of a fourth placed finish – draws are of no use to them.

With teams like Aston Villa and to a greater extent Manchester City, having games in hand, Liverpool need to be winning games.

Alberto Aquilani, who the manager brought in to add an attacking threat at the expense of Lucas against Bolton, came in for some criticism for his performance.

We need to give him between 15-20 starts in the Premier League before we can properly judge him – he has only had four.

At the moment he has just been a bit of a peripheral player and with the injuries to Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres the hope was he would have been a bit more of a game winner.

But we have to give him 15-20 games, it is only fair and he hasn’t played that much football over the last year so let’s just wait and see – though at present he doesn’t look like a world beater.

Although I am loath to talk about the American owners, Tom Hicks’ appearance at Anfield on Saturday was unusual given it was not a particularly high profile game; call me cynic but it would suggest he was just over here on business.

It will be three years this month the Americans put the spade in the ground at Stanley Park and made all these grand claims.

I know we have gone through a recession but the supporters have been left with broken promises.

It is a shame because managing director Christian Purslow seems like one of the good guys who is trying to do something about it all, though the situation seems impossible to resolve unless we accept a loan with massive interest rates.

Everyone tuning into the derby on Saturday will be hoping for a better game than the one in November.

Much like you had the feeling when the sides met at Goodison Park, whoever gets the first goal will probably win the game this time around.

For Everton, there has never been a better time to go to Anfield and play against a Liverpool side without Fernando Torres.

Liverpool are on a decent run of undefeated in six Premier League games but are still not playing that well.

Now Youngsters Can Learn Skills From Their Reds Heroes

Young footballers wanting to learn from the very best players around can discover the secrets of Liverpool stars in the recently-published book Play Like Liverpool FC.

And for forwards wanting to hone their skills, who better than Liverpool marksman, Fernando Torres?

Liverpool's number nine is regarded by many as the greatest striker in the world.

As he works his way back from injury, here are some personal tips from the Spanish star on how to hit the back of the net and improve as a striker

I used to love hitting the ball against a wall

I see a lot of kids in Liverpool playing football. I was always playing when I was a kid too, hitting the ball against a wall or with my friends and my brother.

He was a goalkeeper so I would practice shooting against him all of the time. It is important to practice. In fact, it’s not even practising. If you enjoy football, you will play as much as you can and then you will get better.

Getting your body over the ball when you shoot

It is very important and maybe even the main thing to get right.

If you learn how to position your body well over the ball it will increase your chances of scoring a goal.

The position of your body can make the difference between shooting inside the goal or missing the target.

It can also make the difference between hitting the ball along the ground or up and over the bar, which you don’t want to do of course.

There are different ways to use your body. If you lean back a little bit you may be able to score in the top corner but you have to learn how to control this properly to get it right. You need a lot of training for this skill.

Going for power or accuracy?

I often use the inside of my foot because I don’t have a really strong shot like Steven Gerrard. For a striker, the inside of the foot is often the best part for finishing past a goalkeeper. You can get more accuracy with the inside of the foot. But sometimes when you are outside of the box it is better to use the top of your foot to get more power.

Chipping the keeper

Sometimes the keeper will go to ground early and when you see him do this you can try to chip the ball over him or place it to the side of him. To chip the ball you need to practise stabbing your foot under the ball to lift it slightly and get it back down so it doesn’t drift over the bar.

It’s not always easy keeping the ball down

Football managers will teach you that it’s best to keep the ball down from a header because it makes it more difficult for goalkeepers to make a save.

That is not always possible though, especially when there are lots of people in the penalty box trying to stop you getting to the ball. Sometimes your teammates can help create space for you, such as against Blackburn in 2008-09 with my second goal. It was good movement from Martin Skrtel to draw my marker. That allowed me to run and jump free in the correct moment.

Even then I couldn’t keep the ball down so instead headed it into the top corner.

It came in really quickly from Xabi Alonso’s free-kick so it was difficult for me to control. Sometimes the ball hits you rather than you hitting the ball. On occasions like this you just have to get your head to it and wait and see where it ends up.